At the Height of Color

Shot of the Month – October 2017

Lupine Meadow, Mt. Rainier (1365)If you love color, check your calendar and your compass as it is likely that Mother Nature is putting on a glorious show somewhere near you.  In the northeast of the US the best time is in the autumn with the fall foliage.  Here in Washington state there is a lovely explosion of color in the meadows near Mount Rainier each summer.  How good is the display?  Well, Bob Gibbons, in his book, “Wildflower Wonders: The 50 Best Wildflower Sites in the World” lists Mt. Rainier as the #1 location to visit!

The best to time to see the show?  Well, Mother Nature is an artist and is not fond of strict schedules and the like.  She creates as the mood suits her.  This mountain park is divided into three zones by altitude.  Dense forests cover the low to mid elevations of the park from 2,000 to 4,500 feet.  The cool, shady conditions found here suite wildflower species that won’t be found higher up.  These flowers tend to bloom earlier in the summer.  Next we have have the subalpine zone from 4,500 to 6,500 feet.  The subalpine zone often has the most impressive wildflower displays because the growing season is so short here.  Snow can linger in the subalpine meadows into June and even July — so the flowers need to burst out as quickly as they can before the snows return.  Climbing higher is the alpine zone from 6,500 feet to the summit of the mountain.  There are a few hearty flowers in this zone but it not where you want to be for the most color. (source)

The “peak” bloom for subalpine wildflowers is heavily dependent on weather and precipitation patterns.  Typically, most flowers will be blooming by mid-July and by early August the fields can be bursting with color.  But some years the peak happens in late June.  Also, climate change is also starting to impact the timing and seems to be shifting the bloom to earlier in the summer.  So far I have found the 1st or 2nd week of August to be the most colorful.

What will you see?  Mt. Rainier has hundreds of species of wildflowers — a cornucopia of blues, purples, oranges, reds,Wildflowers, Mt. Rainier (1634) whites, greens, pinks and on and on.  In this quiet, peaceful sunrise image above we look over a long sloping meadow dominated by sub-alpine lupines (purple) that leads to a snow covered Mt. Rainier off in the distance.   There are also dashes of red (Scarlet Paintbrush) and pink (Pink Mountain Heather).   Come on a different day, at different time of day, on a different trail and you can see a completely different color palette.  Here to the right is a rambunctious burst of afternoon color dominated by yellows (Broadleaf Arnica and Bracted Lousewort)) and reds (Scarlet Paint Brush) amongst others.

The canvas literally changes by the hour.

If you do dig your hiking boots out of the closet to take in a mountainside color exhibition do take great care.  Mountain willdflowrs are exceptionally fragile.  Each step you take off trail can crush 20 plants.  Even if a plant survives the weight of your footstep its growth can be stunted for years!!  Stay off the artwork!!

A few resources:

Here is a good article on planning a trip to Mt. Rainier to see wildflowers.

A nice collection of hikes on Mt. Rainier to see wildflowers.

A handy wildflower guide of Mt. Rainier.


Until next month….m


Nikon D4S, Nikkor 17-35mm (@17mm), f/16, 1/10 sec, ISO 200, EV -0.666